On Saturday, March 7th I was able to attend the second day of the Race & Pedagogy Institute Strategic Planning Summit. I had previously attended the Race & Pedagogy National conference in fall of 2018 and I am a member of the Student Association for the Race & Pedagogy Institute, but I still wasn’t sure quite exactly what to expect from this event.
I had a great time at the Summit, and met former students and community members who were just as passionate about social justice and making tangible change in the world as I am, and exposed me to a whole wealth of information I was not aware of about activism opportunities outside of UPS, as well as the history of RPI and previous work that had been done.
The attendees of the event included several students and former students, the RPI leadership team, as well as community partners, some of whom traveled for an hour to be able to attend the event. The day I was there we went through learning, reflection, discussion about the current state of RPI, RPI’s vision and mission, and ideas for the future. We also listened to speakers, including the RPI leadership team, community members and Puget Sound students.
Our Strategic Planning Summits are pivotal in the Institute’s work as they serve as major sites where the Community Partners Forum, along with Puget Sound faculty, staff, and student partners and collaborating constituencies beyond the campus and Forum, come together to critically examine the direction of our work within a longer view. Within the context of University of Puget Sound’s new strategic plan, Leadership For a Changing World, this 2020 Summit will examine our achievements and their significance, alongside questions of what do we need to emphasize and re-imagine, and matters of capacity building and deeper embedding of the work of race and pedagogy.
Excerpt from the Invitation letter for the 2020 Planning Summit
Race and Pedagogy Institute Vision and Mission
“In our 18 years of sustained, focused, and collaborative work, the Race & Pedagogy Institute has staged a range of more than 20 summits and conferences, spawned an assortment of collaborations across academia and communities, provided a variety of educational resources for transformative pedagogy on the Puget Sound campus and beyond, brought together disparate communities to generate vigorous thinking about race equity and education, inspired a plethora of initiatives focused on the work of education and equity in both K-12 and higher education, and been one of the voices of change seeking to transform the landscape of education on our campus and beyond. All of this has been undertaken as part of our mission of educating teachers and students at all levels to think critically about race and to act to eliminate racism.” –Race & Pedagogy Website
As an attendee of this event, I had a several takeaways (in addition to my observation that the catered meals were delicious and far superior to SUB food). An event like this summit with two days of programming takes a huge amount of planning and energy to put on, and the quadrennial national conferences take YEARS to plan. What many people don’t realize, is that the leadership team of the Race & Pedagogy Institute is made up of a very small group of people who perform a very large volume of work, through the power of what seems to me to be sheer willpower.
The Race and Pedagogy Institute is an incredible organization that we are very lucky to have on our campus, and in my opinion is not given the recognition that it deserves. RPI has existed for 18 years, and has put on youth summits, the national conference, speaker series, and other important events that have been extremely beneficial to the Puget Sound community and beyond. I highly encourage anyone who is looking to get involved in social justice, specifically working towards a world without racism to get involved in RPI by joining the Student Association for the Race and Pedagogy Institute or attending community partner’s meetings.
For more information on The Race and Pedagogy Institute check out their website.
Angela Weaver is the Fine and Performing Arts Librarian at the University of Puget Sound (UPS) who was hired at the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic school year. On campus, she is in charge of library services for African American Studies, Art and Art History, Classics, Music, and Theatre Arts. She is also the only African American Librarian on the UPS campus making her arrival here very significant. I had the privilege of interviewing Angela Weaver about her life before UPS and while at UPS so far, as well as the things she enjoys outside of her professional environment.
When I asked Angela if she had always wanted to be a librarian she laughed and told me that, when she began her academic journey, she didn’t know that she was going to be a librarian. She went to undergrad at Duke University in North Carolina and majored in Psychology with a minor in English, thinking that she would become a psychologist. However, during her four years at Duke she worked in the library. When she graduated, she was still working in the library and decided to go to library school, but actually ended up going to graduate school at the University of California in San Diego for play writing, another passion of hers. However, with a practical mindset she knew as soon as she graduated that she would go to library school instead of struggling to make a living through playwriting. Library school at Rutgers University in New Jersey would allow her to combine her love for libraries and drama by becoming a drama librarian. New Jersey was a strategic move on her part, allowing her to intern in New York City, “Theatre central.” Her dream job in the beginning was becoming an archivist for the New York Public Library (NYPL) for the performing arts, where she interned during library school. During the highlight of her internship at NYPL, she had the opportunity to process an archival collection belonging to a playwright and screenwriter who wrote for the Marx brothers movies and also testified during the House Un-American Activities trials.
Despite her idea of being an archivist, she ended up becoming a research librarian and working for different universities, always with a concentration in the performing arts. The first university that Angela worked for was the University of Mississippi in Oxford Mississippi, “where there is nothing else except for the University of Mississippi and William Faulkner’s House,” according to Angela. Preceding her time at UPS, she was the head of the drama and art libraries at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle starting in 2004. The commute from Tacoma to Seattle was a “nightmare” compared to what it had been when she lived in Federal Way. Luckily, she was able to give up the long commute by coming to UPS. She heard about the job at UPS because the head of the UPS Library, Jane Carlin, sent her an email asking if she knew any grad students who were graduating and would be interested in the job. Angela responded saying, “I don’t know any grad students, but me! I live in Tacoma, this would be great.” She wasn’t looking for a job, but this one came right to her, and she couldn’t pass up the offer. Her commute went from 2 and a half hours a day to about 20 minutes a day, she told me, laughing.
I asked Angela about the differences that she has noticed from working at a larger, public institution and now working at a smaller, liberal arts university. One of the first things that stood out to her was that, despite the fact that she was the head of two different department libraries and in the buildings that housed others working for the department, she, “still had met more people here at UPS than at UW,” within a week of arriving on campus. After a week of being at UPS, she had met all of the Classics professors who were on campus for the fall semester, a number of the music faculty, at least two of the African American Studies (AFAM) professors, as well as faculty in the Art department. Angela was shocked that within a month she had met a significant amount of faculty, as well as students, and she had not simply met students once, but had been able to recognize them in multiple different settings. She remarked about how, at UW, there were so many students, “even the ones in drama that [she] saw more often, [she] could remember their faces but didn’t remember their names because there were so many and [she] didn’t really get to talk to them.” She talked to me about how she admires the level of engagement here. It’s, “better because it’s so much smaller and [the librarians] are so much more involved with the classes.”
With the level of engagement being different, there have had to be some adjustments from how Angela was used to doing things at UW; she teaches a lot more classes at UPS and is more involved on a class level. While working at UW, she was used to only teaching about two to three classes each year, and at UPS she teaches about 15 or 16 per semester. She has really enjoyed working with students individually on their projects and getting to delve deeper into topics that students are excited about.
Angela has also been pleasantly surprised at how much she has enjoyed working with the Music department. Having no training as a music librarian and not being a musician herself, she was slightly nervous about having to work with the Music department and the prospect of disappointing them since she had no background in music. In the interview she said with a smile, “I like music, but I’ve never studied music.” However, she followed that up by saying that working with the music classes has been really fun, and that the students have had some really unique and interesting projects. Angela has particularly enjoyed working with the newly hired ethnomusicologist, Dr. Ameera Nimjee and her classes such as World Music and Women in Music. Recently, Angela helped teach a podcasting class, showing them how to create podcasts that incorporate the research they had done. Another professor, Dr. Gwynne Brown, focused on American Spiritual Music, which Angela also had a lot of fun with. She talked about what a welcome surprise it was to go in and discover the creativity surrounding projects, stating that, “they [the students] have really interesting topics and that it’s not just Beethoven, Bach, or Brahms, but music that [she] actually know[s] something about and enjoy[s].” Many of the projects touched on other interests of hers, such as playwriting, because some students were tasked with writing their own plays and pieces of music instead of just writing a paper.
Angela has gotten involved in other ways on campus, besides her role in the library. She reached out to Ellen Peters, the Associate Provost for Institutional Research and Uchenna Baker, the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, to talk about student retention on campus after having read the report that UPS sent out. Angela was disheartened that there were so many students who don’t feel like they belonged at UPS, and Angela said, “being a student of color who went to a private, predominantly white university, I kind of understood how they feel,” even though her own experience had been much different because she had found a sense of belonging at Duke. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that sent us all off campus, Angela got involved with a group called the Student of Color Community Initiative (SOCCI), a task force trying to establish first-year housing for students of color. Unfortunately she was only able to attend one meeting before Spring Break and the switch to online school, but she is hoping they will reconvene in the summer or fall to think about their next steps. Angela was really grateful for the opportunity to work with undergraduate students Christina Mills ‘22, Becca Lumbantobing ‘21, Mara Henderson ‘20, and Colin Noble ‘19 on this initiative that they had worked so hard to create. She raved about the, “incredible 20 plus page report,” that they had written to go along with the initiative they created.
As I continued to talk with Angela about her time at UPS, I was interested in discovering how accepted Angela has felt on the UPS campus and in the library being the first and only African American librarian at UPS. She responded saying that, “librarianship is a pretty liberal profession full of mostly women,” so she has felt accepted. However, she did tell me that, “the profession as a whole has a problem attracting librarians from underrepresented groups,” something of which I was completely unaware. As a result, Angela herself has been involved in programs and leadership institutes for librarians from underrepresented groups and is currently mentoring a grad student who is a member of an underrepresented group as part of a program. She laughed and told me that, “librarianship as a whole has been trying to improve its diversity because it knows it has a problem.” Therefore, she explained that everywhere she has gone as a librarian it’s been a similar situation, with one or two African American librarians. She noted that, when she arrived on campus at UW there was one African American librarian, but when she left there were several more who had been added to the team. Again, she emphasized that it is always that way in libraries, assuring me that, “UPS is not unique in that way.” Angela Weaver is well practiced in the art of, “coming in and being like, ok I’m here!” She also told me that, surprisingly, the University of Mississippi was the place she has been with the most diversity.
Closing out the interview, I asked Angela about some of her favorite things and favorite pastimes. When I asked about her favorite play, she said, “it changes all the time,” and instead listed her favorite playwrights: Suzan-Lori Parks, Caryl Churchill, Sarah Kane, Jose Rivera, and Lynn Nottage. She also shared with me that she used to run a group called Women of Color, Women of Words, as well as head a website as a graduate student project while at Rutgers. Angela graduated from graduate school in 1996, right as the internet was just starting. She had a class on creating websites, and she decided to create a website dedicated to female playwrights of color. The website included, “different biographical information about the playwrights, their plays, where to find them, how to purchase copies, which anthologies had their works, and critical resources around the different plays.” The website is no longer active, but while it was still up and running, many professors had reached out about how helpful the site had been while teaching their students because there hadn’t been as many resources as there are now when it came to learning about diverse women playwrights. The e-group that she started still exists on yahoo, but is not very active today, however during its active time even Lynn Nottage, one of Angela’s favorite playwrights, had joined the group.
Now, Angela Weaver is working from home like many of us, but she is still busy teaching classes and attending meetings. However, she is also passing the time by listening to lots of Prince and doing Christmas crafts because she starts early and has a theme for each year. She jokingly told me that she, “will be finished with Christmas this year by the end of summer.” She makes Putz houses, which used to be very popular in the 50’s, and her theme for Christmas this year is vintage, while last year’s theme was Marie Antoinette, and a past year was 1960’s modern Christmas. The Putz houses are made from paper and cardboard, and she has made about 4 so far using 50’s architecture. Angela is a wonderfully creative and intelligent woman and an extremely valuable member of the UPS community. We are very grateful she has felt welcome by and happy with the interactions she’s had and the projects she’s been a part of while at UPS.
I want to take this space to publicly acknowledge and thank the African American Studies faculty for their remarkable understanding and compassion during this time. The coronavirus outbreak has been a difficult and even traumatic event for all of us in different ways, but my professors in the African American Studies department have acted as a lifeline for me. As a senior student athlete, the weeks following the cancelation of my last season were extremely confusing and distressing. I logged on to online classes trying to maintain a demeanor of optimism, but my professors in the AFAM department immediately knew that this was a façade. Once I admitted to my professors that I was not ok, I was met with an unprecedented level of personal support, empathy, and kindness. I would specifically like to recognize Dr. Brackett and Dr. Livingston for the mentorship roles they played in my final weeks of college. Though we communicated only online, the sense of connection I felt through these interactions was invaluable for my mental health and my ability to finish undergrad in a way I could be proud of, even under these circumstances.
As Dr. Livingston reminds us, living and learning are inextricably linked. My AFAM classes were among the small number of spaces that succeeded in striking the delicate balance between ignoring the significant sadness of this time and wallowing in it. My AFAM professors encouraged the recognition of this period of mental mourning through its incorporation into the learning process. One example of this is Dr. Brackett’s Public Scholarship class (AFAM 399), which afforded me the opportunity to write a reflective article for The Publicon my experience as a Logger athlete, something that I didn’t know needed to be written until it was done. Completing this assignment was not only therapeutic for me, it reinforced the values of the class: sharing knowledge publicly as a means of impacting the social landscape.
Furthermore, my interactions with my AFAM professors were characterized by a distinct honesty and openness and a refreshing absence of fake, flippant optimism. My professors made no attempts to dismiss reality while simultaneously modeling and exuding real fortitude and hope. By bringing their real, honest selves into the classroom, they let us know it was ok to do the same. Of course, the professional relationship of professor/student was still there, but so too was a distinct recognition of mutual humanity, something that literally everyone on earth needs right now.
There is no guidebook for being a professor during a global pandemic. I believe that the extraordinary level of understanding I received from my professors in the AFAM department can be accounted for both by the characters of the individual professors themselves as well as the field of African American Studies being one in which empathy is not just encouraged but fundamentally crucial. That is one of the many reasons I am continuously grateful and proud to have majored in African American Studies at the University of Puget Sound.
In 2014, at the University of Puget Sounds in Tacoma, Washington, faculty voted yes for the addition of the KNOW requirement, short for knowledge, identity, and power. This course requirement for graduation necessitates all UPS students to take one class that focuses on power differentials and social inequalities and how they relate to the production of knowledge. Reading through the 2014 Trail article entitled “Controversy within Faculty Send KNOW Proposal to Final Vote,” it is obvious that the KNOW requirement did not garner the undivided support of UPS faculty. While the vote came out 59 to 14 in favor of the new requirement, those in opposition were not silent about why. Professor Richard Anderson-Connolly, of the Sociology and Anthropology department, stated that the requirement, “…doesn’t pay attention to the idea that race can be a harmful social construction,” stating that while we shouldn’t ignore the impacts of racism, “…we also shouldn’t be teaching students to view each other as representations of different races” (Dohrmann).
Although the KNOW requirement was a step in the right direction, I would argue that those who view the requirement like Professor Anderson-Connolly, as one that could bring forth potential divides by highlighting social differences such as race, are the same minds that the requirement initially set out to reach. It is interesting to note that the KNOW requirement guidelines say nothing specifically about race, but the faculty conversation immediately centered the conversation on race. Rather, the learning objectives listed in the Bulletin course catalogue state that the KNOW requirement for graduation would help students, “develop their capacity to communicate meaningfully about issues of power, disparity, and diversity of experiences and identities” (Knowledge). After reading Professor Anderson-Connolly’s comments, it is no surprise that the word race never made it into the official description of the requirement. The portion, “diversity of experiences and identities” is the closest mention of race in the description.
When I scroll down the 70+ classes available to satisfy the KNOW requirement, I see classes that address the, “issues of power” and, “disparity,” but very few that address the, “diversity of experience and identities.” For instance, I believe intro-level classes like AFAM 101 or GQS 201 meet all three of the listed learning objectives of the KNOW requirement, while other classes listed as meeting the KNOW requirement, like HON 214 Interrogating Inequalities, do not. While I took HON 214 and can attest that the class was based around interrogating inequalities and allowed me to learn how to communicate meaningfully about issues of power, I still was not exposed to the intricacies of inhabiting a marginalized identity in our hegemonic society or taught about the presence of alternative historical narratives and knowledge. In HON 214, I was exposed to dominant, progressive, white topics regarding inequality, not novel ideas that were purposely not covered in my high school textbooks. Throughout the course of taking AFAM 101 and GQS 201, I not only became a more socially conscious individual, but I had my eyes opened to a world that was previously closed off to me in higher education.
I have had multiple students tell me that AFAM 101 changed their lives. This was not simply because they learned about power structures and inequality; AFAM 101 also addresses the creation of knowledge and dominant narratives with a focus on listening to the repressed narratives of a marginalized people. How can one communicate meaningfully about disparity when they do not know about the presence of institutions in our society that perpetuate that disparity but benefit whiteness? Identity-based social justice classes like Latino/a Studies, African American Studies, and Gender and Queer Studies address every aspect of the KNOW requirement’s learning objectives, including developing, “the capacity to communicated meaningfully about issues of… diversity of experiences and identities” (Knowledge). Discussing the presence of disparity is one thing but talking about the forces that cause those disparities not only to be there, but to continue to be there, is a less performative and more meaningful way for UPS’s majority white students to engage and learn from other identities and experiences.
In order to meet the original standards of the KNOW requirement, I propose that the language be changed from “experiences and identities” to “experiences and identities of marginalized folk.” It is important to note that this will narrow the range of available classes that meet the KNOW requirement significantly. With this change, it is important to note that the LTS, AFAM, and GQS departments are some of the smallest, youngest, and most overloaded and understaffed on campus; putting the burden of teaching our majority white students at UPS on these departments should not be done. It is not the job of those with marginalized identities to fix white peoples’ shortcomings when it comes to understanding race. Rather, professors who teach classes already meeting the KNOW requirement would have to resubmit their applications to the Curriculum Committee with an addendum specifically about how the class meets the new, more specific requirement of teaching about “experiences and identities of marginalized folk.” The addendum should also include what kind of pedagogy the professor plans to use when teaching this altered material about, more than likely, an identity other than their own. It is also important to ensure that people of color and marginalized identities occupy seats at every single Curriculum Committee meeting involving the decision of a class counting toward the KNOW requirement.
Including the “experiences and identities” segment of the course description gets at the core of what the KNOW requirement initially set out to accomplish, yet the vague language allows for the presence of auxiliary classes offered as cop outs for those who may believe race is a harmful social construct that should be avoided at all costs. It is important to notice the positionalities of those who make this kind of statement. Very rarely will someone who has experienced discrimination because of their marginalized identity buy into this colorblind notion. Students of color at UPS are already forced to be representations of their own races on our majority white campus. White people are the ones oblivious to the fact that race matters, as Anderson-Connolly so astutely explained to The Trail. This is why it is important to ensure that the KNOW requirement meet certain standards regarding marginalized identities and race.